Howard County Families for Education Improvement released the following press release on July 20th:
Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Employee Admits Using Social Media to Justify Denial of Special Needs Exemption
Further Testimony Reveals Deliberate HCPSS Violations of Privacy Rights of Special Needs Child
During testimony last week in the first of several redistricting appeal trials before the Office of Administrative Hearings, a HCPSS Specialist for Student Reassignment & Residency admitted she used social media accounts such as Facebook to judge the motivation of parents who had applied for an exemption for their child to remain at their current school under HCPSS Policy 9000. The policy allows children with an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan who are redistricted to request to remain at their current school.
“We were stunned,” said Lorraine Lawrence-Whittaker of the Howard County, Maryland law firm Lawrence Whittaker, PC. “The employee admitted that she looked up the social media posts of parents to determine the motivation of the exemption request, even going so far as to call it her ‘right’ and if those accounts were not set to private, in her words, they were ‘fair game,’” said Lawrence-Whittaker.
It is required that the IEPs and 504 plans remain private due to inclusion of students’ medical evaluations. As a result, the plans are protected as private under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The HCPSS employee further testified that because she did not have the authority to review the IEPs or 504 plans, she would seek out the assistance of other HCPSS Central Office employees and have them tell her the contents.
“The HCPSS’ bureaucracy openly used this ‘work-around’ to violate the privacy rights of special needs children affected by the redistricting process,” revealed Lawrence-Whittaker. “So, instead of just processing what should be a ministerial request for a redistricting exemption from families of students who are otherwise completely entitled to it under the Board’s Policy 9000, bureaucrats in the Central Office appear to have engaged in extensive abuses of power against special education parents advocating for the best interests of their children.”
The action is among several other redistricting appeals to be heard at trial in the coming days by the Office of Administrative Hearings. This particular action at issue was filed by three families whose children were denied access to the automatic exemption that was afforded other children with IEPs or 504 plans.
Howard County Families for Education Improvement (FEI) helped to support the appeals, and expressed deep concern about the tactics HCPSS admitted using in reviewing and denying these special needs exemptions. “FEI advocates for every child in Howard County, including our most vulnerable, special needs students,” said Vipin Sahijwani, FEI President. “The information which has come to light in trial is alarming and raises serious questions which must be answered by HCPSS leadership. HCPSS employees are supposed to objectively evaluate parent requests and strictly adhere to privacy rules, and instead they appear to have abused the power of their positions. HCPSS employees cannot be allowed to retaliate against innocent children based on the personal views of their parents expressed on social media or otherwise. Our special needs students and their parents deserve better.”
“Policy 9000 allows for students with IEPs or 504 plans who are redistricted to remain at their current school,” said Lawrence-Whittaker. “Students who were still working through the lengthy process of obtaining an IEP or 504 plan for their child at the time of the Board’s vote on redistricting on November 21, 2019 were not afforded this automatic exemption. We challenged this arbitrary cut-off date since it treated two sets of students differently contrary to Policy 9000.”
Ninety HCPSS students out of the approximately 5400 students moved in the redistricting obtained IEPs or 504 plans after the November 21st redistricting vote.
“During my examination of witnesses from the Central Office, including the Specialist for Student Reassignment & Residency, we heard testimony that this “cut off” date was determined solely by staffers in the office – this was not a date determined by the Board and so-called ‘cut off dates’ are not in Policy 9000 itself,” explained Lawrence-Whittaker. “It appears this was done purely for administrative expediency, and not in the best interests of the specific special education students or educators involved.”
“Meanwhile, Central Office staff was more than willing to extend the deadline to claim exemptions for other reasons, and in fact contacted parents who had not yet made an election for other exemptions. However, they never contacted parents who were in the process of obtaining or had recently obtained an IEP or 504 plan to inform them of how to apply for a special needs exemption under Policy 9000,” said Lawrence Whittaker.
Audio clips are provided from HoCo Neighbors United on SoundCloud: